A solution to Muni’s 1,400 locked — and now unusable — seats may soon be at hand.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is testing a new vertical handlebar which may allow the agency to lower those seats, which have been locked upright since early 2014.
Right now, about 700 buses in Muni’s fleet have a specific set of two chairs, permanently locked in an upright position which were slapped with a sticker reading “This seat has been disabled for safety reasons.”
The seats weren’t the problem, however, but the lack of hand rails were. Without rails, some riders (in similarly designed buses, in other cities) were flying forward when buses came to a sudden stop.
The manufacturer, New Flyer, sent out a warning to transit agencies requesting the seats be locked.
Now about 20 Muni buses are outfitted with new poles which the SFMTA is testing. The locked seats themselves are now potentially a safety risk.
“Since the time the manufacturer requested that we take this safety measure, we noticed that passengers sit on the locked seats,” said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the SFMTA.
Indeed, even riding on the 38-Geary on Tuesday night, the San Francisco Examiner spotted a headphone-wearing rider leaning against the seat, precariously perched on the tip of the locked portion. To everyday Muni riders, the sight is common.
Now that may change. Of the new handles, Rose said, “In an effort to keep our riders as safe as possible, we installed these prototypes to study their effectiveness and convenience for nearby patrons.”
Officially, SFMTA said previously the problematic seats were locked upright for safety reasons. But bus insurance company CalTIP warned other transit agencies of lawsuits, which were filed after passengers flew out of seats in similarly designed buses — leading to the necessity of locking them upright, so they would not be used.
Now, at least, there may finally be a solution.
Rose said, “If we move forward,” the poles would be installed on about 500 buses.
The cost would run between $500 to $1,000 per installation, he said, but SFMTA is still “working out specific costs.”